WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, released the following statement announcing that the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, legislation she helped introduce, passed as part of the COVID relief package approved by Congress. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Access to broadband is critical for our students in Nevada and across this country,” said Senator Rosen. “During this pandemic, colleges and universities across the country have struggled to provide students with the equipment and at home internet access necessary to make virtual learning effective. I’m thankful this bill is now one step closer to becoming law because our students feel the strain of our nation’s digital divide every day. This legislation will start the long process of leveling the digital playing field and allowing students greater access to quality education.”
BACKGROUND: Yesterday, the House and Senate passed H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which funds the government for FY2021 and provides COVID-19 relief for workers, families, small businesses, and others. Section 902 of Division N of the legislation provides $285 million to expand internet connectivity for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCU)s, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), their students, and minority-owned businesses near those colleges and universities.
The funding can be used to purchase routers, modems, wi-fi hotspots, tablets, and laptops. Funding recipients must prioritize students eligible for the Pell Grant or the FCC’s Lifeline program, approved to receive unemployment insurance benefits, currently receiving other need-based financial aid, or earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., $39,300 for a family of four in the contiguous U.S.). The legislation also establishes the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to carry out programs to expand access to broadband at and in communities around HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, and other MSIs.
This provision is modeled on the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act (H.R. 6814 and S. 3701), legislation that Rosen and other lawmakers introduced on May 13, 2020, and is supported by 60 leading higher education, civil rights, technology, business, and public interest groups.